Vital Records and Disaster Recovery in a Digital World
August 23, 2005
Virginia Jones, CRM
Sixth in the Missouri Electronic Records Education and Training Initiative (MERETI) workshop series
- Download Workshop On-Screen Presentation (3.48MB)
- Download Workshop Printed Handouts (1.42MB)
- Download Vital Records and Disaster Recovery in a Digital World - Tables (217KB)
- Download Vital Records Forms (84KB)
Note: Click on the to watch the instructor discuss key points. The number refers to the corresponding slide in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation and handout.
This Workshop examined how technology has impacted vital records programs, business continuity planning, and the methodology for recovering from a disaster. Instructor Virginia Jones focused her discussion on the purpose and elements of a vital records program, how to create a vital records plan, and developing and implementing a disaster prevention plan. 1
All organizations have the potential of losing records due to natural and man made disasters or human error. Ms. Jones stressed developing and implementing a plan before a disaster happens. 9 This plan should establish which records are mission critical and require additional protection, determine where those records are located, and specify how to restore access to them in a timely manner. She stressed throughout the Workshop that the plan is not static. Changes in the media on which the records are maintained may occur, new employees will need training, and environmental concerns may change due to forces outside the control of the organization. All these factors mean that the plan should be periodically reviewed and updated as needed.
She provided many examples of inventory forms, charts for managing vital records, and sample vital records retention schedules. Some of these materials can be found in the additional downloadable information at the top of the page: Vital Records and Disaster Recovery in a Digital World – Tables and Vital Records Forms.
Vital Records Protection Program
Ms. Jones began the Workshop by defining the difference between a record and vital record. She examined the purpose of a vital records program and looked at the elements of a vital records program – responsibilities, risk management processes, vital records identification, protection methods, vital records schedule, and procedures.
The purpose of a vital records program is to identify mission critical records and information, establish procedures to protect those records, and establish procedures for use of selected records and information in an emergency, according to Ms. Jones.
There are multiple elements to a vital records program that Ms. Jones spoke about at length. One of her main points was that it is easier to make the right recovery decisions before a disaster occurs. In the middle of a crisis, decision making is often filled with mistakes and costly to the organization. 69
In her discussion of assigning program responsibilities, she stressed that responsibility needs to be with someone who is high enough within the organization to warrant access to the entire organization. This should be the liaison with emergency services, and the person responsible for maintaining the program.
Risk Management Process Steps
The risk management process determines the vulnerabilities of the identified vital records, builds the business case for protecting vital records, and determines what level of protection should be put in place. It should include a business impact analysis, records risk assessment, records risk analysis, and organizational records impact analysis. 18 Ms. Jones provided examples of site surveys and the information organizations should gather to make an accurate analysis of their situation. 37 She then provided tables that could be used to show the risk level to the organization. 40 44
Identifying Vital Records
Ms. Jones discussed how to identify vital records. These are records absolutely necessary to resume operations, necessary to protect assets, necessary to protect legal and financial status of the organization, and necessary to preserve rights of employees, customers, stockholders, and citizens. 64 She emphasized that these records are vital only for as long as they support critical business processes. They are vital at a particular time in the disaster recovery process, and may lose their vital status quickly after that.
Choosing Protection Methods
The two protection methods that Ms. Jones focused on were dispersal and protective storage. Dispersal looked at differences between routine and designed dispersal. Her discussion of protective storage looked at the differences between on-site and off-site storage, and the additional procedures involved with electronic records, such as vaulting and variations for data replication.
Vital Records Schedule
Ms. Jones stated that the vital records schedule is a detailed list identifying the vital records and information, their location, protection instructions, and method of protection. It includes the inventory, classification, and priorities for which records should be recovered immediately, which ones can be recovered in the near future, and which ones can be recovered later. One point Ms. Jones called attention to was that records designated as historical or permanent records on the records retention schedule are not necessarily an organization’s vital records.
Vital Records Policy and Procedure
The procedures are how the agency should react and who they should call depending on the disaster. They should be tailored to each foreseeable type of disaster the agency might face. It should include a vital records manual, which communicates requirements of the vital records program, and be an inclusive reference of all steps to recovering records to return to operation as soon as possible. 68
Records Protection Standards
Ms. Jones provided the attendees with some information on the national and international standards that can aid in determining the best methods, rationale, environment, and housing for protecting records. They provide measurable benchmarks for evaluating based on proven best practices from a variety of sources; create measurable methods of accomplishing work processes and tasks; and provide organizations with useful criteria or products and services that can help in securing the right equipment for protecting records. Ms. Jones looked at the scope and requirements of several standards from various organizations. 94 100 100a Information on where the standards can be found were on slides 110 to 113 of the PowerPoint presentation at the top of the page.
Business Continuity Plan
Ms. Jones explained that the business continuity plan is a written, approved, implemented, and periodically tested program that includes all actions to be taken to reduce the risk of avoidable disaster and to minimize the loss if a disaster occurs. 115 It prevents loss of vital records and information, costly salvage of vital records and information, the delay of restoring critical business functions following a disaster event, or significantly minimizes the effects of deliberate destruction, human error, or carelessness. 124 130 Ms. Jones described the development of a continuity plan in terms of the four phases of emergency management – prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.
The last segment of the Workshop focused on recovery services, damage assessments, recovery priorities, and how to begin data recovery. She provided examples of what to do for paper and electronic media recovery. She offered practical advice on immediate steps an organization should take, how to stabilize the environment, and proper methods for removing records and record media. 155-156 158